A new era in Valparaiso men’s basketball begins Saturday evening as Bryce Drew takes the helm of the Crusaders for the 2011-2012 campaign. Drew welcomes back eight returnees from last year’s squad, which advanced to the postseason and finished just one game out of the Horizon League regular season title, and also brings in five newcomers as Valpo looks to continue its winning tradition.
Drew enters his first season as a head coach this year, but has plenty of coaching experience, having spent the last six seasons as a member of the coaching staff at Valpo, including five years as an associate head coach. Over his time on the bench with the Crusaders, Valpo has won 102 games and made a pair of trips to the postseason.
Luke Gore is back for his tenth season on the Crusader coaching staff, while Jake Diebler enters his first year as an assistant coach after spending last season as the director of basketball operations. Former Illinois standout Roger Powell Jr., who spent the last six seasons playing professionally, rounds out the trio of assistant coaches, while Will Phipps joins the staff as director of basketball operations, coming to Valpo from Georgia Tech, where he served as video coordinator.
Eight players return in 2011-2012 for the Crusaders from last season’s 23-win squad, including a pair of starters.
The lone senior on this year’s squad is walk-on guard Nick Shelton. Shelton has appeared in 29 games over his first three seasons with the Crusaders, including seven last year.
Four players are entering their junior season of eligibility for Valpo in 2011-2012. Guard Erik Buggs returned from a redshirt season last year and started all but one of Valpo’s 35 games, averaging 2.8 points, 2.4 rebounds and a team-high 3.1 assists per game. Buggs ended the year ranked ninth in the Horizon League in assists and fifth in assist/turnover ratio (1.88).
Swingman Ryan Broekhoff represented the Crusaders on the preseason All-Horizon League second team after a solid sophomore year last season. Broekhoff started 34 of the Crusaders’ 35 games, finishing third on the team in scoring (10.3 ppg) and pacing the squad in rebounding (5.2 rpg). The sharpshooter led the Horizon League in 3-point percentage, connecting on 44.8% of his efforts from behind the arc. He also finished among the league’s top-ten in blocked shots, 3-pointers made and assist/turnover ratio. This summer, Broekhoff represented Australia at the World University Games, tying for team-high scoring honors by averaging 10.9 ppg.
Guard Matt Kenney came off the bench in most of his 32 appearances last season, but played near-starter minutes, averaging 23.1 minutes per contest. Kenney posted 6.0 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game as a sophomore, increasing his averages to 7.6 points and 4.7 rebounds per game in Horizon League play. Forward Kevin Van Wijk appeared in 34 games, starting once, in his first season at Valpo last year. Van Wijk averaged 5.1 ppg on 53.6% shooting from the floor and scored in double figures on three occasions.
Three Crusader returnees will be taking on their second season of on-court action. Center Hrvoje Vucic debuted last year after redshirting in 2009-2010, appearing in 11 games, including an eight-point, five-rebound effort against IU Northwest. Guard Tommy Kurth, who started 23 games as a true freshman at point guard, sat out last year due to injury and received a medical redshirt, retaining three seasons of eligibility.
Last year’s only true freshman, guard Jay Harris, made an instant impact in his first year, appearing in all 35 games off the bench and averaging 5.1 points per game. Harris led the Crusaders in free throw percentage, connecting on 94.9% of his efforts from the charity stripe, and was perfect from the free throw line in Horizon League play. He saved his best effort for the last game of the year, pouring in 20 points against Iona in Valpo’s CIT game.
This year’s quintet of newcomers to the Valparaiso men’s basketball program is comprised of a trio of Division I transfers, one junior college transfer and one prep player.
Guard Will Bogan comes to Valpo from Ole Miss, where he spent three years, using two seasons of eligibility. Bogan, who is eligible to play immediately for the Crusaders, appeared in 48 games for the Rebels, including making seven starts as a freshman. In his rookie season, Bogan posted a 16-point effort at Arkansas and tied for third on the team with 44 assists.
Guard Ben Boggs actually transferred to Valparaiso at the semester break last year, making him eligible to play for the Crusaders at the end of this year’s fall semester. Boggs started his collegiate career at Virginia Tech, appearing in 29 games and totaling 61 points and 35 rebounds. Forward Bobby Capobianco joins Valpo from Indiana, where he spent two seasons. Capobianco, who must sit out this season but can practice with the Crusaders, appeared in 57 games and made five starts with the Hoosiers, totaling 96 points and 112 rebounds.
Forward Richie Edwards arrives at Valpo having completed his junior college career at Hillsborough C.C., where he was a two-time All-Conference selection and averaged 18.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game last year. Edwards also brings plenty of international experience with him, as he averaged 20.1 points per game, third-highest among all tournament players, at the World University Games this summer representing New Zealand.
Rounding out the group of Crusader newcomers is forward Vashil Fernandez. Fernandez played last season at Princeton Day Academy in Maryland, posting a double-double over the second half of the season and also averaging five blocks per game. Fernandez previously played at Calabar H.S. in his native Jamaica, averaging nearly a triple-double and leading his conference in rebounds and blocked shots.
Valparaiso’s schedule for the 2011-2012 season features 17 home games, six games against NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago and at least four national television broadcasts.
Valpo will open play with a pair of home exhibition games, facing Hillsdale (Oct. 29) and Augustana (Nov. 3), before playing in one of the first regular season games nationwide, opening the regular season slate on Monday, Nov. 7 at Arizona, which advanced to the Elite Eight of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, on ESPNU.
The game against the Wildcats is the first of four the Crusaders will play as part of the 2K Sports Classic Benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer, as Valpo will host a five-team subregional at the ARC the weekend of Nov. 18-20. A pair of postseason teams from a season ago in Akron (NCAA) and Duquesne (CBI) will travel to take on the Crusaders, while District of Columbia and IU Kokomo round out the subregional field.
Another highlight of the non-league slate is Friday, Nov. 25, when Valpo travels to take on Ohio State. The game against the Buckeyes, who ended the 2010-2011 regular season ranked #1 in the nation, is slated for broadcast on the Big Ten Network. Home games against Holy Cross [Ind.] College, Bowling Green and Oakland, and road games at Georgia Southern, Northern Illinois, IUPUI and a BracketBuster opponent round out the non-league schedule.
Valpo begins Horizon League play with a single game at Butler on Saturday, Dec. 3, and then hits the meat of the double round-robin Horizon League schedule in late December, starting with a home game Thursday, Dec. 29 against Milwaukee. The league slate is highlighted by a trio of television appearances: Friday, Jan. 6 at Detroit, a game which will be broadcast either on ESPNU or ESPN3.com; Saturday, Jan. 28 at Milwaukee, the Horizon League Network Game of the Week – broadcast regionally through the Horizon League markets; and Friday, Feb. 24 as Valpo hosts Butler in front of a national audience on ESPNU in the regular season finale.
The Horizon League Championship begins on campus sites on Tuesday, Feb. 28. The semifinals will be broadcast on ESPNU on Saturday, Mar. 3, with the championship game played Tuesday, Mar. 6 at the highest remaining seed live on ESPN. The winner of the 2012 Horizon League Championship receives an automatic bid to the 2012 NCAA Tournament.